By Edward Milde
I was in seventh grade when 9/11 happened. The first reaction everyone had in the city was, “It had to be an accident.” I remember it like it happened yesterday; it is incredible how easily something like that gets burned into your head. To tell you the truth, my most vivid memory of the day is how beautiful of a morning it was. Everyone always says it was a beautiful morning. We probably think that because of the contrast to what happened.
But we were in a class in my middle school called Computer. All of the sudden a teacher came into the room and very nervously told us we all needed to go to our assembly hall for an important announcement. We all rolled our eyes as we sat down in the assembly hall because we thought there was some boring announcement coming that none of us wanted to sit through. Then our headmaster started talking. It was amazing how quiet everyone got the minute he got to the words “planes” and “crashed” and “World Trade Center buildings.” He, like most people in the city at this time, thought that it was an accident, and explained that reports coming in spoke of one larger aircraft and one smaller one, probably a privately owned plane. Like many other accounts we heard that day, it was wrong.
What happened next was terrifying. The first thing I thought was, “Oh, Jesus Christ, my dad takes the train underneath those buildings to work every single day.” I remember looking at my watch and seeing the time, realizing he would have been there right when this started to happen, but like a lot of people, I had no idea that the buildings were going to go down, so I honestly didn’t worry about it too much.The next thing I knew, a classmate of mine was in tears behind me because both of his parents worked in the buildings, and both of them worked high in the buildings. I knew one of my best friend’s fathers worked above the 80th floor in WTC 2. This scared me more than anything. My headmaster kept explaining how high the planes had supposedly hit (wrong again) and then he informed us not to panic, and told us that it was most likely an accident (again, very wrong). He then released us and we went back to our regular classes. All of us in Computer looked up everything that we could online. Of course, we found the articles already proclaiming that we had been attacked, that someone had done it on purpose, and that they were terrible people. It still didn’t hit most of us who didn’t have family in the towers. It still didn’t hit me what was going on.
Then we were called back into assembly for another speech from the principal. This time everyone was intent on listening. He began slowly, because he was clearly in shock from the news he had heard but didn’t want to convey that to us. He told us that this incident was not an accident and that two jet liners, hijacked earlier that day, had purposefully been flown into the buildings. The time now was around 9:50 a.m. He let us out of assembly again and we were all left to a free period to make phone calls. I went to my mom’s office to see her. People were all in there watching the TV to see what was going on; people were crying and people were yelling. My mom grabbed me and hugged me and swore to me my dad was OK. I was relieved, and I hadn’t even realize how worried I was about him.
It was then that one of my classmates came up to my friends and me, and told us that you could see what was happening from the roof of my school. I followed him and my friends to the roof. To this day, I regret this decision. You could only make out the tops of the towers but you could clearly see the gaping holes in the buildings. The smoke from the crash was already making its way directly over our neighborhood. I found it amazing. My seventh grade self, with no idea of the amount of life being lost across the river, could not take my eyes away from it. I must have stared for at least five minutes, long enough to have it burned into my head Then we left, we had to go to our next period class. It wasn’t until about ten minutes later that I was approached by another classmate who told me that one of the buildings had fallen. The first thing that I thought was, “Wow, there’s only going to be one of them now.” When I look back on that thought, it’s probably the most terrifying thing I thought all day considering what happened after.
My other most vivid memory of the day was walking outside after one of the towers had fallen. We walked into the backyard of our school. My friends and I stepped outside, and someone proclaimed, “Holy crap, it’s snowing! It’s snowing already.” And then someone else from across the court yard looked at him and told him, “No, you idiot, that’s ash. Both of those buildings collapsed; you’re walking through the ash from that, so shut up.” That was shocking as hell.
My friends in lower Manhattan lived with me and another one of my friends for three days after it happened. They weren’t allowed to go back to their homes. When I came home that day, my dad told me that he had gone into work late that morning, solely because his shoulder hurt from his recent surgery and he had decided to stay in the shower a few extra minutes. If he hadn’t done that I have no clue what would have happened to him. But as it was, he ended up being evacuated off a subway car three blocks from the Trade Center, and he ended up coming up out of the subway right as the second plane hit. He heard it, didn’t see it. He turned around in time to see the fireball. He stood across the street from it for about a half an hour before some god sent police officer told him to go home and be safe. I think about that police officer all the time. If he hadn’t said anything to my father, he would have stood there until that first building came down. Standing right across the street from it.
The news played images and videos of the tragedy for weeks upon weeks afterward. The smoke from the Trade Center collapse enveloped my neighborhood for days after. Friends of mine found burnt pieces of paper with company logos on top. They found personal documents, all sorts of things that had been blown over the river. Some of them still have them. About a week after it all happened, when Manhattan was up and running again, I went into downtown Manhattan with my mom to look at the endless walls of photos that people had put up, hoping to find their loved ones. My mom was looking for a good friend of hers she knew worked in the buildings. She hadn’t spoken to her in years, but when my mom used to work on Wall Street, they were very close at one point. My mom didn’t find her picture on the wall, but it was the most somber thing I had ever seen. The wall was nearly endless and there were so many people looking for family and loved ones. You could see the pile a few blocks away, but police wouldn’t let you anywhere near it. My mom didn’t want to go near it anyway.
Everything that happened that day and in the weeks that followed didn’t hit me like it would’ve if I were older. I was young, and I had seen all this with my own eyes. And it didn’t hit me how traumatic that day was until I hit high school. Then college came, and people spoke of it so nonchalantly. It was then I think that I started to get upset every Sept. 11th. Up until then, it was just a thing that happened, a terrible, terrible thing that crippled the city I grew up in. And ever since then we have been slowly recovering. Now it has become this symbol to everyone. It has become a means for revenge to some. In the end, it really just hit me as a traumatic experience that I lived through. The scariest thing is that I was so young and I had to experience an entire city falling to its knees. I was still trying to figure out girls and go through puberty, and then this happened and I didn’t grasp the magnitude of it. And I think it defined the city and defined a lot of me as well. I just didn’t realize it until later.